Abdulsalam and Khitan Nayef's bags were packed. They had plane tickets for their family, including four children ages six to fifteen, and all were eager to start a new life in the United States. For years they had been living in squalid conditions in Ankara, Turkey, after their home in Aleppo was destroyed during Syria's raging civil war.
Abdulsalam, speaking through an interpreter, says they paid "an extraordinary amount of money" to be smuggled over the border into Turkey.
To qualify for resettlement in the United States, they submitted to rigorous background checks and an application process that lasted about two years. "There were at least four major interviews and constant follow-up questioning," Abdulsalam says. "There was biometric and health screening, interviews about where you've been, where you lived, and family demographics."
The first part of the last phase of the family's resettlement ordeal was to begin January 29 with a seven-hour bus ride from Ankara to Istanbul, where they would board a flight to New York City. But the day before they were supposed to leave, Abdulsalam received a devastating phone call--he and his family were no longer welcome in the United States.
At 4:42 p.m. on January 27, 2017, after one week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order called, "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." As the secretly drafted order was implemented with little preparation or guidance, invisible barriers clanged down across the world. It blocked nearly all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States. Some 60,000 visas were revoked. Within hours, hundreds of travelers abroad with formerly valid U.S. visas were barred from boarding planes while scores of visitors arriving here were detained and handcuffed.
The order carved out a small opening for refugees already in the admissions process so long as they qualified based on unnamed "additional procedures." It slashed refugee admissions in 2017 by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000. And it suspended the entry of Syrian refugees like the Nayefs altogether as "detrimental to the interests of the United States." It was not until two days later that the Department of Homeland Security issued a fact sheet listing Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen as the impacted nations.
The order allowed for case-by-case exceptions "in the national interest-including when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution." That provision reflected Trump's prior comments that he was seeking a "complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
Abdulsalam was crushed. "When you think you are going toward freedom and a better life, it was devastating news. The children were all very upset. My first worry was we would have to go back to Syria and back to the war, but we don't have a home there."
Protests against the ban erupted at airports across the United States. In New York City, taxi workers staged a brief strike, and more than 1,000 Yemeni-owned convenience stores closed for part of a day. Big tech firms, pushed by employees, publicly opposed the order, and an avalanche of lawsuits--more than fifty--hit the courts.
Within a day, judges in Brooklyn and Virginia ruled refugee and visa holders in the...